Downeast Dog News
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Welcome, Museum of Maritime Pets

By Susan Spisak | Mar 01, 2022
Mollie, a 14-year-old rescue dog, has been Ambassador at Sea since 2021

There’s a new treasure on the Midcoast - the Museum of Maritime Pets. Initially a virtual website on seafaring animals through the ages, it moved into the Maine Lighthouse Museum in Rockland last summer. The museum is the passionate concept of its founder, Patricia Sullivan. Her goal as the Chief Operating Officer and “Jill of all Trades” is to document and exhibit the contributions and activities of dedicated maritime pets.

This 501(c)3’s mission, in part, is to foster an appreciation of animals living or working on or near the water and who collaborated with man in times of peace and war. The museum celebrates and promotes the safe and humane treatment of animals who live or work on or near the world's waterways.

This endeavor began as a fluke for Patricia, who has a background as a trained historian and museum administrator. (She ran three historic house museums, including the Paul Revere House in Boston.) Around 2005, she was online in her Annapolis, Maryland home and happened upon the National Maritime Museum site in England that highlighted an “Animals at Sea” exhibit: “I thought how interesting.”

She found several concurrent animal nautical exhibits in museums across the world. As an avid animal lover (she had a busy pet-sitting service in Maryland which she plans to reboot here as Penobscot Pet Services), she decided to start the online museum focusing on seafaring pets in 2006. She sent out a few inquiries and was inundated with pictures and information. “It was virtual, but from the get-go, it had a major international following,” she said.

In the early years, she turned to the nonprofit VolunteerMatch. She was paired with volunteers from around the world who were key to the museum’s growth. Two researchers surveyed and listed worldwide maritime museums and contacts for her while a master’s student cataloged her book collection via pictures of her book spines. With invaluable info at her fingertips, Patricia could rely on these for pertinent data as needed.

“It’s not something you can make up. I never dreamed it would happen. This was going to be a retirement project, and it quickly became full-time.” Since she already had a career, she utilized spare moments to get this off the ground, it was important to her. “Animals have done so much for and with man, but their maritime stories had never been collected into a single institution. We are, so to speak, a clearinghouse to facilitate further research and sharing of that history.”

While she enjoyed her online museum and in-person events such as working dog water demos in Annapolis, she longed for a brick-and-mortar facility. She knew she wanted to retire in New England, so in the Fall of 2019, she visited Maine to scout towns and tour area museums.

Her visit to the Maine Lighthouse Museum proved fruitful. The powers that be indicated they’d be thrilled if she shared their space - after all, as home to the largest collection of lighthouse, lifesaving, and United States Coast Guard artifacts in the nation, works exhibited could complement each other. She knew her exhibits might overlap as the Coast Guard has a long history of military working animals, and many lighthouses have animal mascots, but their relationship would work.

Patricia was pleased with this partnership of sorts and was ready to pack up her Maryland home. She could finally have “walls” and highlight the courageous exploits of animals at sea. The pandemic set her time frame back, but by last year the museum mounted two exhibits about Lighthouse Mascots and maritime pets. This year, the museum will have more breed-specific exhibits about working and companion sea pets as well as heroes and famous mascots.

Today, the museum continues to rely on information from friends and supporters – animal lovers, artists, sailors, archivists, underwater archaeologists, mariners, and history buffs. There are her traveling exhibits that head to other museums and public institutions, including the ever popular "All Paws on Deck" which features several famous mascots and a tribute to the pets who were aboard the Titanic in 1912. She offers online presentations to groups and libraries upon request and plans to continue water events. There are diverse topics available through Zoom and other platforms.

Maritime Pets & Ambassadors

Faithful seafaring pets, mascots, and working animals through the centuries include many species, with dogs holding special roles. Many canines on naval ships often nursed wounded soldiers. At destination points, they would serve as guards on decks. Portuguese Water Dogs were bred to herd fish into fishermen's nets, retrieve lost tackle or broken nets, and delivered messages from ship to ship or ship to shore. Labs and Newfoundlands also worked on fishing fleets and rescued any “man overboard.” These are just a few examples of the breeds and roles that these loyal canines, and sometime pets, held.

Other animals included birds (such as parrots who traveled with pirates), dolphins, and seals. Cats were important on boats – they not only kept the rodent population down but could sense oncoming barometric pressures, crucial to sailors.

Since 2014, the museum has chosen an Ambassador at Sea. The first one was Bailey Boat Cat, a seal-point Siamese living aboard S/V Nocturne just outside of Rome, Italy. Bailey is the center of a blog written by his mom, Louise Kennedy. She also crafted the best-selling book, Bailey Boat Cat: Adventures of a Feline Afloat in his voice, telling of his explorations and philosophies.

Bailey cruised the Mediterranean with co-skippers, Louise, and James, and was joined three years ago by crew member canines, April, Blue, and Annabelle. Bailey was a “spokescat” for ocean conservancy, safe boating practices, and offered tips for sailing with your pet.

Annabelle, a 2-year-old Chihuahua, was their second Ambassador at Sea. She assumed her duties in June of 2019 after Bailey retired. She and her two crewmates, Border Collies April and Blue, lived with their humans on S/V Titanium near Barcelona, Spain. Annabelle's first duty as Ambassador was to meet and greet the other furry sailors at the marina. Sadly, Annabelle passed away while ashore in 2020.

The museum’s latest Ambassador is Mollie, a mixed-breed dog who lives aboard S/Y Yacht Monty B. She sails Lake Kotor in Montenegro and the nearby Adriatic with canine crewmate, Bertie. Tim, the Skipper and their owner, hails from the UK and offers charter sails. The spunky Mollie has personally welcomed over 1,000 guests. She’s keenly interested in naval history, navigation issues, and advocates for safe boating practices.

Patricia enjoys creating interesting ideas such as the Ambassador program, talking with guests, and sharing exhibits for visitors. She’s looking for volunteers in a variety of positions – greeters, tour guides, gift shop clerks, and virtual researchers. Contact her at 207-390-5909 or email info@museumofmaritimepets.org if interested. Donations are welcome, visit museumofmaritimepets.org/supportus.html. Tour this unique museum at 1 Park Dr. in downtown Rockland, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 4 pm.